Medicine Makes an Indelible Impression on Adam

Published: July 12, 2021

A mature-age student, rediscovering himself and college, returns to pursue science.

Adam McConnell sports a three-quarter Japanese-inspired tattoo sleeve on his right arm that features a dragon wrapped in a figure-eight around his triceps and biceps that stretches to his exterior digitorum. Under a rising red sun and against the backdrop of Mt. Fuji, the black scaled legendary creature is eating its tail -- with claws and teeth showing.

The imagery, which took over 40 hours to create, represents completeness and an endless search to understand oneself, according to the 33-year old Queensborough undergraduate researcher and summer intern.

Among six Queensborough participants at the annual Biology Partnership in Research and Education Program (BioPREP) at SUNY Stony Brook, McConnell’s ambition is to be a practicing medical doctor and geneticist who advances our understanding of the human genome.

“The next stage of human development will be based on genetic discovery. I want to be able to fix people and learn, for example, the mechanism by which we grow old the way we do,” the Liberal Arts major explained.

Queensborough undergraduate researcher and summer intern, Adam McConnell, using pipette in the lab.  Queensborough undergraduate researcher and summer intern, Adam McConnell, wearing a pink bookbag

Queensborough undergraduate researcher and summer intern, Adam McConnell.

Highly recommended for the NIH-funded program, McConnell is learning to isolate DNA and other laboratory techniques while contributing to research on lung cancer.

“We’re experimenting with green tea extract to see if it limits a cancer cell’s ability to multiply. We’re trying things that are not toxic to the human body,” he said.

“The tools and connections I’m acquiring in this program will follow me through the rest of my academic and professional career.”

From Laurelton, Queens, McConnell commutes 40 miles east on his bike and by train to reach campus, three days a week, to be part of the highly coveted, paid, intense BioPREP. Established 27 years ago, it encourages underrepresented community college students to pursue careers in biomedical sciences

Over 100 Queensborough students have attended the program, according to Dr. Nidhi Gadura, Professor and Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences and Geology at Queensborough.

“BioPREP is a tremendous success. About 90% of Queensborough graduates who took the program have earned a bachelor’s degree, mostly in the sciences or health-related fields compared to about 30% of community college graduates in America who achieve a Bachelor’s degree,” said Dr. Gadura, who has led 40 students through Queensborough’s participation in the program since 2011.

“What’s also amazing is that one-third of Queensborough’s BioPREP participants continue their education at graduate school to do research and get advanced degrees,” Dr. Gadura added.

McConnell re-enrolled at Queensborough this spring after a decade hiatus.

“Back then I had been researching with Dr. Regina Sullivan in the biology department and liked the experience. I had an interest and a knack for science and Dr. Sullivan offered me an opportunity to join her lab while taking her biology course. I presented at several conferences and thoroughly enjoyed research but soon realized I wasn’t fully committed to my academics. So I took some time,” he explained.

Having worked in nightlife as well as the automobile service industry, McConnell returned to Queensborough in January as an online mature age student, carrying over credits -- and his pursuits -- from ten years ago.

“It was time to resume my education and the completion of my path. I want to use my entire mind to help people, so pursuing medicine makes sense to me,” he said.

With one more course to complete in the fall, McConnell, the youngest of four siblings, plans to continue his studies at City College or Hunter College and perhaps return to Stony Brook for medicine and a Ph.D.

“I’ve been around hospitals and medical professionals all of my life. Everyone in my family has an association with health care. It only seemed natural that I would take this path,” he said.

His father had been a paramedic and his mother was a nurse (at St John’s, Elmhurst and other hospitals) as well as an educator at Queensborough.

“I used to come to the campus as a kid. My mother, Deborah McConnell, taught in the Nursing program,” he recalled. “I used to run around on the campus and we would feed the ducks and swans at Oakland Lake.”

There is an empty patch on the back of McConnell’s tattooed forearm. Soon, a different bird, a mythological one, will take its place and fully depict his journey.

“I want to go to Japan one day and have an artist emblazon there an immortal Phoenix, flying out from the pagoda and disappearing behind Mount Fuji. Complete, it will represent my rebirth and pair perfectly with my endless hunt to know myself.”



Contact:  Michael Donahue or Alice Doyle

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